CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Jordan Carstens came to practice late last season thinking he had pulled a muscle in his rib cage. The problem was much more serious.
The Carolina Panthers reserve defensive tackle spent the next week in the hospital with a blood clot on his left lung. Seven months later, doctors are still trying to find the right medicine to treat his kidney disease so he can play football again.
``My wife and I are just hanging in there, saying our prayers, because there's really nothing we can do,'' Carstens said Tuesday. ``I'm taking the medicine and doing everything I can, so it's kind of out of my hands.''
Carstens first started having kidney trouble in 2005, when he started a career-high 15 games in place of the injured Kris Jenkins. At the end of the season, a biopsy determined he had membranous nephropathy, a disease that affects the filters of the kidney. It causes a person to lose protein through their urine, which can lead to blood clotting.
``It was scary. You go from playing football, being really active, to laying in a hospital bed for a week,'' said Carstens, who credited trainer Ryan Vermillion with quickly realizing the pain in his chest could have been a clot. ``It's kind of tough, and even after that they told me I really had to take it easy. That's hard for me.''
Carstens was put on blood thinners and has undergone numerous tests. But until the right medicine is found so he can stop taking blood thinners, he can't be involved in contact.
In the NFL, that might have meant a ticket out of town, especially since Carstens was active in only one game in 2006 after Jenkins returned from his knee injury. But in March the Panthers offered Carstens, a restricted free agent, a one-year tender worth $1.3 million.
``He's our kind of guy. He's a tremendous person and a hard worker,'' general manager Marty Hurney said. ``Obviously what happened last year didn't have anything to do with his ability as a football player. It's something that we have to monitor and see how it goes, but that was an off the field issue.''
The loyalty means a lot to the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Carstens, who was first signed by Carolina as an undrafted rookie in 2004.
``The way they handled it during the season last year was great,'' Carstens said. ``That gave me some optimism. Just knowing the people around here and knowing what kind of organization this was, I had some faith that they would remain optimistic, like me.''
Carstens is taking another batch of medication, and he must pass a series of tests just before training camp next month before he'll be cleared to return.
The worst-case scenario for the disease is kidney failure, but the 26-year-old Carstens is a long way from giving up on playing again.
``I don't think I'm at that point yet, but if the risks outweigh the awards, then I think I'll be ready to move on,'' Carstens said. ``But for right now, I'm staying optimistic and hopefully we can get this thing turned around.

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